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Illinois Man Convicted in 'First of Its Kind' No-Body Case Involving Missing Father
A large pool of blood and spent shell casings found inside a storage locker helped prosecutors secure a murder conviction against Allen Schimmelpfennig in the death of Gabriel Cook.
An Illinois man was found guilty of murdering a father, despite there being no sign of the victim’s body.
Allen K. Schimmelpfennig, 30, was found guilty on Wednesday, May 10, on charges of first-degree murder and concealment of a homicidal death in the case of missing man Gabriel K. Cook, 34, according to the Peoria County State’s Attorney’s Office. Jurors arrived at the verdict after only 90 minutes of deliberations following a trial based on circumstantial evidence.
Prosecutors called the “bodyless murder case” a “first of its kind,” according to Peoria County State’s Attorney Jodi Hoos.
“Murder trials without the victim’s body are difficult to prove,” Hoos stated. “The body is usually the strongest piece of evidence. It can tell you the ‘who, what, when, where, and why’ of a murder.”
Hoos said they relied on “technology and good, old-fashioned police work” to secure the conviction.
On March 8, 2021, prosecutors say Cook’s family reported him missing, the same day deputies with the Peoria County Sheriff’s Department were dispatched to a Jeep on fire on Kickapoo Creek Road. Investigators learned the Jeep belonged to Cook’s grandmother, with whom Cook lived, and that Cook used the vehicle regularly, according to the state’s attorney’s office.
Relatives said that aside from the missing man’s grandmother, Cook maintained regular contact with his loved ones, including “daily conversations” with his girlfriend and weekly video chats with his daughter – communications that abruptly stopped the same day he was reported missing.
“A witness testified to seeing Cook and Schimmelpfennig together earlier that day loading a motorbike into the Jeep,” according to the state’s attorney’s office. “That was the last time Cook was seen alive.”
Witnesses reported seeing Schimmelpfennig and Cook in the early morning hours at an apartment in Chillicothe, Illinois - about 20 miles north of Peoria – after both allegedly loaded the Jeep with stolen goods, according to CBS Peoria affiliate WMBD-TV. According to an affidavit cited by the Journal Star, the motorbike was among the stolen merch.
Security footage led investigators to a storage locker leased to Schimmelpfennig, where detectives with the Peoria Police Department found the motorbike and “a large pool of dried blood,” later confirmed to belong to Cook.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Amanda Youmans swore in court that “based on the amount of blood found in the storage locker, a person would have needed immediate medical attention in order to survive,” per the state’s attorney’s office.
Investigators searched area medical centers for any such visit but came up empty.
Prosecutors also relied on the ballistics of multiple .380 shell casings found in Schimmelpfennig’s storage locker, which matched another spent casing found at the suspect’s apartment. Cook’s cell phone and GPS records also helped prosecutors prove that Schimmelpfennig and Cook were together on the day Cook disappeared.
Peoria Police Det. Clint Rezac told the court that Cook wore a GPS monitoring bracelet because he was on probation in Tazewell County, making it easy to track his movements, according to the CBS affiliate. Data from the bracelet and phone showed the devices arrived at the storage locker and remained there for about 90 minutes, according to the Journal Star.
Prosecutors said the bracelet traveled toward a Koerner Road residence in the northwestern part of Peoria around the same time surveillance video showed Schimmelpfennig driving away from the storage locker in Cook’s Jeep, the affidavit stated. The Jeep was found ablaze at 2:45 p.m., about an hour and a half after the bracelet stopped on Koerner Road.
Jurors heard the bracelet was later found at the residence after being cut from Cook’s arm, according to WMBD-TV.
Schimmelpfennig’s defense attorney, Public Defender Kevin Lowe, argued there were no fingerprints or any other evidence directly tying his client to the murder, according to WMBD-TV. Lowe proffered that Cook had other enemies, which could account for his disappearance.
Lowe also claimed Cook lived with depression, which might have caused him to take his own life.
Prosecutor David Gast pushed back, asking, “Who got rid of the body, his ghost?”
A Peoria County jury took less than two hours to agree.
“We are grateful that Mr. Cook’s family can now have the closure they have been searching for,” said State’s Attorney Hoos.
Schimmelpfennig is due back in court on June 22, 2023, for post-trial motions and sentencing.